Cupid’s Shuffle

The floor was slick, but it always is, that combination of public funded laminate and specs of dust that clung like the refulgent pink of the girls’ painted lips. Her shoes slid across it, their bottoms smooth like the pearly film covering her wall, pretending to be a whiteboard. The gym throbbed; the beat from the box black speakers a hegemon of sound. She surveyed the open space, broken by collections of hesitant adolescent neophytes. The majority of them were outside, soaking up the oozing yellow sunrays between greasy bites of pizza. There were forays back for seconds and thirds, shy glances through cross-hatched glass to see if the right people had been audacious enough to dance yet.

The transition was sudden; the food was picked over and the heavy cream doors were open just long enough to emit the siren call of the bass. Suddenly it was too hot outside and bodies bounced off one another as they jostled inside. The girls claimed center stage; a smattering of humidity fluffed hair, flowing floral prints and hemlines that flirted between innocent and too grown. The boys were mice, scurrying around the perimeter. They darted into a group and then just as quickly out, squeals reverberating in their wake. The boys stuck to what they knew – each other – and peeked at the girls with saucer eyes.

The awkwardness was the only thing heavy enough to compete with the sound, but the beat was a hammer, constant blows spreading webs of cracks through the doubt. Then a breakthrough – that song that everyone loves and the heave of friendly hands to a back that actually stays in the thick of all that hair and movement. And he can’t really dance, but they don’t seem to mind and then the groups merge.

The beat weaves between them now, an intoxication. Arms are thrust up, hips are thrust out and there’s only the occasional glance to make sure they look like everyone else. The beat lulls disparate groups together, tricks them into seeing each other as safe, as their same. The gym smells like sweat and musky pubescent cologne, and their smiles could swallow the Capital.

The DJ takes a risk and cuts the rapid beat, swaps in a crooner who demands for pairing up and swoony gazing. The girls sway into the arms of their best friend and the boys do a defeat shuffle. How to penetrate this paring to get to the one? There are a few iconoclasts, shirking the beginner’s angst to couple up, damn the pointing and the giggles! They know; the rest mask their insecurity in ridicule, but it’s all jealousy. They pine for their hands to be around a waist too. But the DJ is an expert; he knows to dole it out in ounces, a tiny taste of what’s to come. More would overwhelm. So it’s back to thumpy beats and big heterogeneous groups and safety in numbers and jerky movements that are frustratingly unnatural for some.

It ends without pomp, a simple announcement about busses and exits. The music fades, but the hum remains. The buzz of charged hormones. They filter out, and she watches them go, her shoes sliding on the gritty floor.


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